Someone ought to write a folk song about Ronnie White.
This is a man who reached the height of his profession, got kicked to the curb, then rose again. On Tuesday, a U.S. Senate committee will consider White’s nomination a second time for a lifetime appointment as a Missouri federal judge.
This time, it looks like he will be confirmed.
White, 60, thought it would happen the first time too. But then the man who once worked as a janitor and rose to become the first African-American Missouri Supreme Court judge got caught up in politics — namely, the wickedly bitter 2000 Senate race between John Ashcroft and Mel Carnahan.
What followed made senators from both parties wince. The Senate rejected White on a party-line vote after Ashcroft opposed him, saying White was pro-criminal and weak on death penalty cases.
One case that got attention involved a 1991 shooting spree by James Johnson, who may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his service in Vietnam. One of his victims was Pam Jones. She was the mother of Caleb Jones, who would later become a Republican state lawmaker, and the aunt of Tim Jones, who is now speaker of the Missouri House.
The state Supreme Court rejected the arguments of Johnson’s lawyers. Johnson was executed. White was the lone dissenter after questioning the quality of Johnson’s attorney.
Democrats, though, smelled politics. Some said Ashcroft was playing the race card to drum up votes.
Sen. Barbara Boxer once said White was a victim of a “political lynching.” The late Sen. Ted Kennedy said Ashcroft’s block of White was “the ugliest thing that has happened to any nominee in all my years in the U.S. Senate.”
There were other twists.
In 2001, President George W. Bush nominated Ashcroft as attorney general. White came back to the Senate with something to say.
Ashcroft “told his colleagues that I was against prosecutors and … maintaining order,” White said that day about his derailed nomination. “My record belies those accusations.”
White went on to become the first black chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, which happens to be housed in a building where slaves were once sold on the steps. He retired from the court in 2007 and went into private practice in St. Louis.
Then in November, and seemingly out of nowhere, President Barack Obama nominated White again. Historians said it was unprecedented for a president to renominate someone the Senate had once rejected.
Look at it this way: Obama is righting a wrong.
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.